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Discrimination by association is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act (EqA) 2010. It arises where an employee is discriminated against because they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Currently, the law does not extend to discrimination by association on the grounds of marriage and civil partnership.

Example: A father has been accepted in a new job post. After revealing that one of his children has a disability, the employer later retracts the offer because they are concerned about how this will affect the father’s commitment. This is direct discrimination by association because of the father’s association with his child.

Discrimination by association could also occur in circumstances where an employee is treated less favourably due to their affiliations with people with a particular protected characteristic. For instance, campaigning to help people with a particular protected characteristic or refusing to act in a way that would hinder people with a particular protected characteristic may result in less favourable treatment for that employee.  

Example: Whilst reading the newspaper, a boss recognises one of their employees from a photo. The photo has been taken from a protest that was held to champion LGBT rights in respect of gender reassignment. The boss is worried that the actions of the employee could tarnish the reputation of the company and therefore decides to remove the employee.  This could amount to direct discrimination because of gender reassignment and/or sexual orientation.

Example: An employee’s wife is diagnosed with leukaemia, which is a disability for the purpose of the EqA 2010. The employee informed his employer that he required time off to care for his wife whilst she was ill. The employer, when finding about this, dismissed the employee, because they were concerned that he would become an unreliable employee and would cause inconvenience to the company.

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